Save Money By Taking Your Spring Cleaning to the Next Level

Springtime is here, and that means it’s time for that beloved annual tradition — spring cleaning. In surveys conducted by the American Cleaning Institute, responses indicate that as many as 91% of Americans and 96% of Millennials engage in spring cleaning, so it seems safe to say we’re all in this together.

As you open the windows and begin your routine of washing, sweeping, dusting, and decluttering, the goal is to spruce up your home’s interior while eliminating things you no longer need. When done correctly, spring cleaning can actually make you happier and healthier. So, it makes sense to be as thorough as possible. This year, while you’re busy cleaning your fixtures and furniture, it might be a good idea to update some common household items to more energy-efficient options. A more efficient home is an investment that can save you money all year long, and we’re pretty sure lower utility bills will boost your mood as well!

Simple Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient This Spring

Energy Saving Power Switch: By completely cutting off all power when an electronic device isn’t in use, these plug-in adapters reduce the costly effects of “vampire energy.” While the term sounds scarier than it should, vampire energy refers to the power that still flows to a device even when it is turned off. These handy switches can be purchased online or in your local hardware store for $10 or less. And with prices that low, your return on investment can be quite substantial.

Low Flow Showerhead: According to a research project conducted by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average American shower lasts for just over 8 minutes and uses approximately 17 gallons of water. The average flow rate works out to be roughly 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm). By switching to a low flow shower head that reduces usage to 1.25 gpm, you can save an average of $32 per year per person. For a couple, that means about $64 in savings each year — especially impressive considering that most low flow showerheads can be purchased for $10-15.

Smart Thermostat: The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, shop, and even do our banking. Now, thanks to smart products like the Nest Thermostat, it appears that it has also changed the way we save on energy-related expenses. While the initial price of a Nest will set you back approximately $250, the average annual home energy savings of $150 per year means you’ll recoup your investment in less than two years. After that, the savings will continue to add up.

Energy Audits: Not sure where to begin? An energy audit can help! Depending on your location, energy audits can cost anywhere from $250 to $600. And while that might seem like a lot to pay up front, the potential savings can make it worth the investment. During a professional energy audit, efficiency experts utilize specialized tools to identify areas where your home may be using excessive energy, which in turn – can help you pinpoint which improvements will make the biggest difference. To find an energy auditor and prepare for an upcoming audit, check out these helpful tips.

Throughout this article, we’ve talked about a few relatively low cost ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. But maybe you’re thinking a little bigger this spring. If you need a little more incentive to make big ticket improvements like installing new windows, updating your HVAC system, or adding solar panels, federal tax incentives may provide just the push you’re looking for. Usually available in the form of rebates, these incentives are designed to encourage homeowners to update their home systems to be more energy efficient and sustainable. If you’ve been thinking about making some major energy saving upgrades around your house, don’t forget to see if the upgrades qualify for valuable government incentives. When it comes to saving energy and saving money, every little bit helps!

Valentine’s Day On a Budget: How to Find Love & Laughs for Less

When it comes to the topic of Valentine’s Day, public opinion seems to be split. Some people love everything about it. Hearts, roses, candy, flowers, cupid — you name it, they’re here for it! On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find “Valentine Scrooges” who consider February 14th a day like any other. They’re convinced the celebration and fanfare are nothing more than Hallmark-sponsored money grabs. To be fair, these positions are extreme.

If you’re like most people, you probably enjoy spending the romantic holiday with your special someone, but you prefer to celebrate without spending a ton of money. Good for you. There’s nothing more attractive than someone who plans a financially responsible Valentine’s date. So, if you’re looking to create an inexpensive, fun-loving Valentine’s experience you’ll remember for years to come, we have a few suggestions you might enjoy.

Dress up and dine in. At first, this suggestion may seem pretty crazy. Why would you go through the trouble of getting all dressed up if you’re not going out in public? Because there’s a strange, yet undeniable appeal to doing something that doesn’t make sense to anyone else, that’s why. So, go ahead—go big. Glam it up. Suit and tie. Gown and heels. The more overdressed, the better. Whether you cook for yourself or order your favorite takeout, the food choice isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you’re both ridiculously overdressed for the occasion. And that’s the point. Have fun with it!

Dress down and hit the town. Like the previous idea, this one involves an unexpected combination of date attire and meal selection—but with a completely different twist. Before the big date, you and your date head to the nearest thrift store (you can shop together or separately) and buy a complete outfit for the other person, spending no more than $10 in the process. The clothing selections can be as tacky and outrageous as you please—the tackier, the better. The only catch is that you both have to wear the outfits to dinner, no questions asked. If you play this one right, not only will you save money and enjoy your date, everyone around you will probably get a kick out of it as well.

Dollar store gift challenge. You and your date can play this one a couple of different ways. The first approach involves heading to the nearest dollar store and seeing who can find the single best/craziest/funniest/most ridiculous gift for the other person. The second option involves setting a spending limit and seeing who can rack up the most entertaining gift collection. (No need to go above $10. After all, it’s still a dollar store). For a little additional fun, take some selfies with your newfound treasures, and share your pics on social media using the hashtag #DollarStoreScore. After your adventure, head out and grab some dessert. Since you did your Valentine shopping at the dollar store, you’ll have plenty left to cover a sweet treat or two!

Whether you use the tips above or come up with a clever idea of your own, being smart about your Valentine’s spending goes a long way towards ensuring your day is filled fun-loving memories instead of expensive mistakes. And when you’re wondering what to do with all your savings, don’t forget to stop by your local credit union — we’re happy to help you find ways to make your money work for you. And let’s be honest, long-term financial stability is sweeter than a $10 box of chocolates could ever be!

How to Pay Off Your Holiday Credit Card Debt in 3 Months or Less

The holidays are a time for joy, family, giving … and racking up debt. More than a quarter of Americans have fallen into debt paying for holiday expenses — and it’s not a small amount of debt either. Overall, the average amount owed among those with holiday debt was more than $1,000. Of course, it’s easy to feel the pressure to spend during the holidays. But you don’t want to let overspending set you back financially in the new year. So if you ended up charging a little too much in 2018, here’s how to quickly pay off your holiday debt and start 2019 off on the right financial foot.

1. Figure Out How Much Debt You Have

To pay off your holiday debt quickly, you need to know what you’re dealing with. That means opening your credit card bills or checking your statements online. Add up all your balances to get a clear picture of how much holiday debt you have.

2. Develop the Right Debt Payoff Mindset

You might feel overwhelmed by how much you owe. But you can find the motivation to pay it off by focusing on the benefits of being debt free. Ask yourself why it is important to you to pay off your debt and what you’ll do with the extra money once your debt is paid. Having a specific goal will give you willpower to pay your debt off and not continue to charge. Maybe your goal is a vacation to Hawaii this summer. Print out a photo of your financial goal and keep it somewhere that you will be forced to look at it daily, and remind yourself that you’ll book the vacation once your holiday credit card debt is paid off and you start to save that money for your trip.

3. Create a Debt Payoff Plan

Another way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by your debt is breaking down the total you owe into manageable amounts. For example, if you have $1,000 of holiday debt and want to pay it off in three months, you’d need to make monthly payments of about $333. If you get paid twice a month, that’s about $166 per paycheck — or $11 a day. You could also make a chart showing how much you need to pay each week or month to eliminate your debt and track your progress.

4. Start as Soon as Possible

You don’t have to wait until you get your credit card bills to start making payments. The more frequently you make payments, the less interest you’ll end up paying and the more quickly you’ll be paid off. If you can, consider making weekly or biweekly payments.

5. Try Paying Off High-Rate Debt First

Focusing on your credit card or loan with the smallest balance first and making only minimum payments on other debt can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and build momentum to pay off bigger debt. However, you could actually pay off what you owe faster by prioritizing your debt with the highest interest rate.

6. Find Expenses You Can Temporarily Eliminate

To pay off your holiday debt quickly, take a look at what you might be able to live without for a few months. You could cancel some subscription services, eliminate lunches out and make coffee at home to free up extra cash for debt repayment.

7. Minimize Costs You Can’t Eliminate

You can’t eliminate all of your monthly expenses, but there are plenty you can reduce. For example, can you call and try to cut your phone or cable bill? Every little bit helps.

8. Make Extra Money for Debt Payments

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, take time to go through your stuff to find things you no longer need that you can sell for cash. You can sell DVDs, books, clothing, tech items and unwanted gift cards online. You also could pick up a side hustle in your free time to bring in extra money for debt repayment.

9. Make Use of Credit Card Rewards

If you have cash back or rewards credit cards, consider putting them to use to help pay off your holiday debt.

10. Stick to Cash

If you want to pay off holiday debt quickly, you have to avoid racking up more debt. Allot yourself a certain amount of cash each week. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Not only can using cash help reduce your reliance on credit, but also it might help reduce your overall spending.

11. Create an After-Action Plan

After paying off your holiday debt, you need to take steps to avoid racking up debt again next holiday season. Create a savings plan to have enough cash for the holidays in 2019. Just as you created a plan to pay off debt by breaking down what you owed into smaller payments, you can figure out what you need to save based on 2018 holiday spending. Then, divide that amount by the number of months left in the year until the holidays to know how much you need to set aside each month.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Gobankingrates.com

Brace Yourself: Santa Shock is Coming

Let’s talk about Santa Shock, shall we? No, not the “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus” kind. For this conversation, we will use “Santa Shock” to refer to that icy sense of regret that creeps in when you open those first post-holiday credit card bills. If you’ve ever blown past your self-imposed holiday spending limit, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

The realization that you racked up additional debt can be an isolating frustration—something you’d rather keep to yourself, but it might help to realize that roughly 77% of Americans admitted to crashing through their respective financial barriers just like you. We know, we know. You don’t want to celebrate other people’s bad decisions, but when it comes to financial challenges, misery may not love company, but it kind of likes having it around.

You overspent. Now what?

Let’s face the facts. Once the gifts have been opened, the holidays have passed, and the bills roll in, your budget may be a little tighter than you’d like. When you’re faced with those oversized balances, it can be tempting just to make minimum payments and figure out your finances later. But thanks to those pesky credit card interest rates, that approach not only makes the problem last longer, it also makes it more expensive. This year, why not get creative and recover from Santa Shock as quickly as possible?

3 Practical Tips for Paying Off Holiday Debt

If you want to pay off your holiday debt sooner rather than later, try these simple ideas to free up some funds and get your budget back on track:

Cut cable. Since the average cable bill is roughly $107 per month, this step doesn’t require much of an explanation. Unless you’re in the middle of a long-term contract with early termination charges, canceling your monthly cable subscription can save you more than $1,000 per year—more than enough to pay off all or most of your holiday debt. And with affordable streaming options like Netlflix and Hulu, you can still keep up with many of your favorite shows.

Closet clean out. If you got new clothes this past holiday season, you have to make room in the closet, right? Instead of packing them away, gather up your gently used items and try to sell them online. Apps like ThredUp, Poshmark, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace make it incredibly easy to reach thousands of potential buyers without leaving the comfort of your home.

Meal prep for a few months. Everybody has to eat. There’s no way around that. And while dining out is convenient, it can also end up costing you more than you realize. Depending on where you live, a single meal at a restaurant can set you back $10-12. If you go to a restaurant more than once a day, you may be spending far more than you need to. By planning ahead and preparing meals in advance, you can save on dining costs and redirect some of your food budget towards your credit card balance.

We’ve already established the fact that it’s fairly common to go over a holiday budget. However, sometimes we get carried away with the yuletide spending and wind up over our heads financially. If you find yourself deep in debt and unable to find a way out, don’t be afraid to ask for help by stopping into your local branch or making an appointment for an annual financial review. Our team can help you assess your current financial situation and recommend solutions for your specific needs. This may even help you avoid Santa Shock altogether next year!

Throw a Super Bowl Party That Doesn’t Break the Bank

Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to plan for the next big event. That’s right—Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner! As the NFL’s top two teams prepare to battle, the festivities leading up to the game will clearly show that the NFL has spared no expense in trying to make this Super Bowl the greatest championship game in history. So when it comes to planning your Super Bowl party, we suggest taking a different—and slightly more sensible—financial approach.

8 Ways to Throw a Budget-Friendly Super Bowl Party

If you’re looking for some ways to host a Super Bowl party that’s as frugal as it is fun-filled, here are a few of our favorite suggestions.

Start with a financial game plan.  Sounds better than “make a budget,” doesn’t it? Since Super Bowl parties are all about football, it makes sense to prepare like a coach. Setting a spending limit before you shop will help you stiff-arm the creative displays and impulse items at the grocery store. To quote Super Bowl-winning QB, Russel Wilson, “The separation is in the preparation.”

Team up with a co-host. Since football is a team sport, why not recruit a co-host to help you plan your party? Not only can the two of you share the cost of food and decorations, you’ll be able to split the stress of planning as well. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?

Digital invites over classic invitations. Sure, Pinterest is packed with clever ideas for intricate Super Bowl invitations, but you know which detail those posts forget to mention? Postage costs. Rather than sending out old-school invites, create a Facebook event and share it with your friends or jump over to Evite.com, where you can design and send online invitations for free!

Downplay the decorations. Let’s face it, even though extravagant decorations might make impressive Instagram posts, people aren’t coming to your Super Bowl party to marvel at your elaborate sandwich stadium and coordinated team napkin displays. Don’t overdo it with the decorations. Dollar store party supplies are perfect.

Generic snacks: The Real MVP. Your guests will probably be snacking from the pre-game festivities to the post-game trophy presentation. What they won’t be doing is critiquing the subtle flavor undertones of your chips and pretzels. So rather than springing for brand name snack foods, grab the store-brand counterparts, serve them in a giant bowl, and kick back knowing you have money left in your food budget.

Encourage crowd participation. Food and drinks are usually the most expensive part of a Super Bowl party—especially if the beverages are of the adult variety. A pot luck meal plan and BYOB policy are great ways to ensure refreshment costs are divided evenly and everyone is guaranteed to have at least one dish they’ll enjoy.

Save big with Super Bowl promos. If you decide to provide all the food for your party, you might as well look for the best deals. Keep an eye on your local grocery store flyers, as they routinely run special sales on traditional party food. If you’re trying to stay out of the kitchen, check your local restaurants for money-saving party promos.

Make post-game meal plans. You plan, prepare, and present a spread of tasty food for your guests. Then, when the game’s over, you have to figure out what to do with the leftovers. Fortunately, game day favorites like burgers, chili, and sandwiches can make delicious meals for a few days after the big game. This makes meal planning easy and lunch costs less expensive.

With a little creativity and some careful planning, it’s entirely possible to throw a great party without throwing away money in the process. Whether you use all these ideas or just a few that work for you, following these tips will help you host a winning party without spending more than you should.

4 Ways to Save in January

The holidays are over and that means most of us are strapped for cash. January can be a tough month for many recovering from holiday spending. Here are four ways you can save a little this month as you work to get your finances back on track.

Winterize your home.
This is the coldest time of the year, so make sure your house is ready for the cool temps. There are a variety of things you can do to save this month by lowering your energy bills. Check out these simple tips for winterizing your home. Your wallet will thank you.

Eat what’s in season.
After all the groceries needed for preparing those holiday meals, it’s no wonder you’ll want to cut down on food costs this month. Check out the various fruits and vegetables that are in season in January, many of which are sold at a lower cost. Surprisingly there are a number of yummy seasonal foods that are at their prime in the dead of winter, such as: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, grapefruit, kale, leeks, lemons, oranges, parsnips, tangerines, and turnips.

New year, new budget.
Take a look back at last year, what worked for your finances and what didn’t? Learning from the past is an excellent way to make smarter choices this year. This month, take a look at the year ahead, anticipate months that will be more costly, and plan accordingly.

Shop sales.
After holiday sales can be an excellent way to save on items you need for the coming year. Check out reduced prices on everyday household items (like household cleaners, soaps, and baking supplies) that are marked down simply because they come in holiday packaging.

Article Source: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com